Category: art

Twig Book Challenge Wrap-Up and a New Adventure

Well, I did it. I forgot to post about it, but I did complete the book challenge.

My last two categories were “A book over 500 pages” and “A book over 100 years old.”

I used these categories as an opportunity to transition into my new adventure: starting this year, I am now a full time writer. Not the novel-writing kind of writer, but the “multiple commercial, journalistic, and creative projects at once” kind.

Quitting my steady paycheck to pursue a lifelong dream would have been a very bold Millennial generation kind of thing to do, if my job hadn’t been a dream job. I was paid to travel. Comfortably. More than comfortably. Luxuriously.

But, I have a calling. It’s become fairly clear. And that calling is to write.

Because Lewis and I are both firm believer that funding is an essential part of creative endeavors, I’m freelancing for my supper. In addition to bringing in pretty decent money, commercial projects give me daily writing exercise.

I’ve also taken on a more official role at The Rivard Report. Business cards and all. As their education writer, I’ll be sitting in on a lot of board meetings, yes, but also exploring what might be one of the great social justice issues of our generation: educational outcomes. So, in addition to stimulating conversation, it helps me sleep at night knowing that if the world ends before I publish a book, I haven’t wasted my time.

Which brings me to the big creative project that pushed me over the edge into full-time writerhood.

First stop on the Olmsted Trail: Library of Congress.
                                              First stop on the Olmsted Trail: Library of Congress.

For the next four months I’ll be following the trail of Frederick Law Olmsted’s journey across Texas, documenting the changing fates of the places he visited. Conveniently, his home base was San Antonio. So it will be a series of smaller journeys following his timeline, rather than one epic road trip.

(You can follow the trip on select social media sites: #olmstedintexas, and expect regular blog posts starting…soon)

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. In preparation I read the following books, among many others, as a point of transition:

  1. Over 500 pages: Rough Country: How Texas Became the Most Powerful Bible Belt State, by Robert Wuthnow- basically, if you want to understand why your friends from other states assume you like Ted Cruz, but don’t assume you like Julian Castro…this is the history for you. Why people assume more of Texas looks like Dallas (fundamentalist Bible belt and big business) than like San Antonio (Catholic Southwest and not-as-big-business).  Technically, the prose in the book ended at 480 pages. But they were dense pages and I read a lot of the reference material and footnotes, so I’m giving myself this one.
  2. Written over 100 years ago: Journey to Texas 1833 , by Detlef Dunt – Olmsted actually refers to this widely publicized account of a German immigrant to Texas while it was under Mexican rule. He basically says, “Who was paying this guy?” The author (Dunt is probably a pen name) gives a pretty encouraging account of what he found on arrival in Texas, which upon reading Olmsted and Wuthnow, I’m tempted to agree was something of an advertisement for others to follow his lead and come to Texas, which was then a very rough country.


Twig Book Challenge: Third Quarter

This year our local bookshop is conducting a reading challenge. Now that Moira goes to bed at 7:30pm, I thought, well, why not! Reading is quiet, portable, and doesn’t require me to get into a “mode” the way that writing does. As January revealed, I like a structured challenge, and I have been enjoying the Twig’s reading challenge since January 2. I’ll be reporting on my progress periodically. This quarter’s reads have reviews in this post, previous quarters’ reviews are on the previous Twig posts.

AND I still need a 500 word page turner to close her out! (if you’ve already recommended, please remind me, as social media tends to bury these things) …

Golden Birthday Challenge: Days 5-9

It’s been a week, and we are on a roll with new things!

Day Five: Taking Moira to play at the Pearl Amphitheater 

We tacked this on to the end of a walk with a friend, and it was a great success. The rock seats are the perfect height for cruising, which is our favorite activity these days. And the dead grass was a perfect for eating. I was fishing leaves and debris out of her mouth all night.


Day Six: Not picking apart my body in our family photos

In early December, we had the special treat of a family photo session with Rachel Chaney. Rachel has photographed me seven times now in the last seven years. Sometimes they were photography jam sessions, where she was learning and experimenting. Other times they were life milestones, like my wedding. All of her work is fantastic and I love it. She’s technically on hiatus, but she graciously agreed to photograph our family in a lifestyle shoot.

We got the proof gallery on Tuesday, day six. The photos are everything I’d hoped they would be, largely thanks to my obliging and adorable daughter, and particularly photogenic husband.

If you read this blog at all, you know that the baby weight adventure has been a thing for me. I am ALWAYS hard on myself in photographs (no matter how good Rachel manages to make me look) and now there is simply more of me to be critical of.

But I tried something new. I decided to give thanks for my body, that carried and birthed a heathy baby and will one day be fitter and firmer, because I am running, cutting down on wheat and sugar, etc. But no matter how well I do, I know I’ll still pick myself apart. So on Day Six, I did not. I gave thanks instead for each beautiful image of our happy, smiling family who loves each other so much.

And you know what…the pictures got even more beautiful, and I enjoyed them more than any before.

Day Seven: Monitoring our energy usage and solar array production

We installed our solar panels just in time for a massive cold front and cloudy skies. So we’re not seeing the really cool potential of these things like we will in the sunny times, and when the heat doesn’t run all night.

But just watching how the wattage in your house spikes when the heater comes on is enough to make you layer up and cut the heater down to 65. Maybe that’s the true secret to how solar energy is going to cut carbon emissions.

I feel like I’m gaining points when I see the green part of the graph (meaning the sun peaked through the clouds and the heater wasn’t on).  Actually though, we’re gaining MONEY. How great is that. It’s a computer game where the earth wins.

This screen shot is from our monitoring of what happens when Lewis turns on the Vitamix. The big spikes, though, are the heater. The panels had been operational since 1pm that afternoon.

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Day Eight: Eating at a Fruteria/Botanero

I’ve never eaten at Johnny Hernandez’s fruit infused snack bar. I liked it a lot. Fruit infusion lends itself to some killer cocktails. Also, guacamole with grapes. Who knew?

It’s a great spot for a date night too. Lewis, who has been several times, tells me it’s more whimsical by day. But by night, it’s pretty atmospheric.

Day Nine: Art-to-go at Landa Library (or, seeing if Moira is ready for crayons)

Our favorite branch of the San Antonio Library was not as crowded as usual, due to the freezing temperatures. So, Moira and I had all the attention, and allowed ourselves to be talked into an art project. Landa Library will sometimes set up a huge craft table with a simple, fun craft for kids to do at their leisure.

Moira is far too young for the painter’s tape/negative space project they had, but I was curious about having her color.

She is not ready for crayons. She just chewed on them while I made this:


Wanderlists: Bookstores

One of the great joys of watching Moira grow has been her fascination with books. She loves them as objects, and she loves them as stories. She could have gotten that from either parent, really. The chief design challenge in our little house has been how to incorporate bookshelves. Every single room in the house (except the bathrooms, because Seinfeld) has a book shelf.

I’m not an anti-ebook essentialist at all. But for me, the tactile experience is part of the transportation. I don’t just love the content of what I am reading, I love the experience of reading it. So a good bookshop, for me, is like confectionary or a spa. If I liked amusement parks, I may draw that parallel. But I don’t, so I won’t.

A visit to the Twig, our local indie, is part of our weekly routine. And nothing is more exciting in a new city than visiting their proudest indie bookshop. Being surrounded by ink and ideas, fabulous graphic design, and that satisfying heft of pages is so peaceful to me.  And a good indie book store is overflowing with possibilities, and like the books themselves, the experience of being there is just as fulfilling as the items you take home.

Lewis and Moira at El Ateneo in Buenos Aires
Lewis and Moira at El Ateneo in Buenos Aires

While I can’t say that I’ve been to all the best book stores in the world (notably missing is Powell’s of Oregon), I do have a list of favorites. (but all the photos below are from our most recent bookshop experience, as I don’t usually take many photos in bookshops…) …

Fun with Records

Recently Lewis and I inherited a record collection from the most fascinating woman on earth. The story is amazing, but only Lewis can really tell it, because he was the one who spent the afternoon looking through nude sketches and still life paintings with a 91 year old German lady, and walking away with half her classical record collection.

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Which led him to purchase a turn table. This worked out well, because our house came with a piece of furniture whose sole purpose is record and turntable storage. We’d already refinished it, in fact. The house also came with an impressive collection of 45’s.

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So we began listening through the vintage treasures.

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We have all of Beethoven’s symphonies. Peter and the Wolf. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.


It also gave me an excuse to visit the purple record store near my old apartment, which I’d always been too intimidated to patronize, though I’d always admired the little sign on the corner that told how many miles to the North Pole.

Over Christmas we raided Lewis’s parents collection, which included some records he had bought in college. It also included spoils from his first ever dating relationship. Note: when our daughter gets her first boyfriend, we will not be giving him a bunch of great records. They are going to break up two weeks later, and he is going to keep the records.

Christmas yielded not only some classic Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, and Beatles, but also a collection of Sesame Street and Disney favorites. We now have both “Moonshadow” and “I Love Trash” on vinyl.

We also have some other amazing finds, and we discovered a fun game that we of the “make it smaller!” generation have been missing.


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Something New and Good : Requiem

 My sister and her husband were living in my grandparents’ old house. The alarm, which had not been turned on for literally over a decade suddenly went off for no apparent reason. It was loud (which upsets my sister), and it was relentless. My brother in law tried turning it off, dismantling it, and disconnecting it, and still it screamed.

Suddenly he turned, and there was my sister, who had been outside calling relatives to try to figure out the alarm code. She was holding heavy duty scissors and wearing her game-over face. With no pause for discussion, she took a handful of the freshly exposed wires and cut straight through them. The alarm stopped. She handed the severed hardware to her husband and walked away. The alarm is turned off in a permanent way.

That’s what happened to me and God-talk.

Once upon a time, my faith was easy for me to talk about. I loved going to conferences on topics like “the church” or “the Church” or “this thing called church.” I could worship pretty freely in most settings (I say most because of my weird squeamishness in charismatic services). Nothing got me jazzed like a good theological debate or the inside jokes that only Bible students can access. I wanted to live my life in the semantic fray of those who would decide what is most important to Jesus, and what’s really wrong with the world.

And then came a concentrated series of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and disappointments that made corporate worship and spiritual intimacy almost unbearable. The language of these misunderstandings was the language of my faith. The words that hurt my feelings cut straight to my identity, because they were words of my faith. The disappointments knocked the wind out of me all the more because they were delivered in the same language I had used to pin my hopes to the church.

The words that had been my life now sound like death to me.

The music, the memes, the tropes, and the catchphrases of Christianity feel like itchy wool on the blistering summer of my heart. So it has been with a fair amount of desperation that I’ve been hunting for sounds that don’t make me cringe or want to hide. Right now, that means going to the symphony.


Last weekend the San Antonio Symphony, San Antonio Mastersingers, Trinity University choir, and UTSA choir performed Verdi’s Requiem, and they did so with a grandeur I had never seen from this group of hard-working and humble musicians. Trumpets in the mezzanine. Bass drums. Super-titles. My lungs were vibrating behind my ribs from the sound waves, and my soul shook somewhere deep my guts.

In the wake of the explosions at the Boston Marathon, the shootings at Sandy Hook, and Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors, and the millions of lesser injustices we witness every day, we should all appreciate the need for songs of grief and cries for mercy. The concert was universal and personal in a way we often forget that we need. Not to compare my grief with the victims of tragedy, but simply to point out that death has many faces, and no paltry words or chords can match it.

Verdi was not a man of public faith, but he used the requiem format – a sung funerary mass from the Catholic church – to honor deceased friends and a common political ambition of a unified Italy. He was skeptical of the church, and yet the power of a private devotion wasn’t lost on him. His distrust did not run so deep that he would abandon the vocabulary of faith. Instead he made it beautiful by composing one of the finest pieces of music to carry it past the ears and into the soul, past the cynical guards who kept the words themselves at bay.

I can relate.

As I listened, four soloists and three choirs delivered the haunting words of the Kyrie, Agnus Dei, Sanctus, Lacrimosa, Lux Aeterna, and the rest until finally the Libera Me, which literally means Deliver Me. The words were displayed on supertitles, but I didn’t need them to know that this terrifying and haunting beauty was at once the death mass for who I thought I would be, and a reminder of why I’m still tangled up in this tattered and sweat soaked faith of mine.

I’m not who I was. Not headed in the same direction, not in the company I used to keep. And the gulf grows greater every day.

It’s difficult to worship. It’s difficult to talk about my faith, or to hear others talk about the faith we share. But it is not difficult to hear beautiful music. Music that makes me want to join when it sings, “May eternal light shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints forever, for Thou art good.”

My Ideal Book Shelf

I’m a fan of questions like, “If you had to be stuck on an island with three books, what would they be?” And I’m a fan of the website Ideal Bookshelf, where you can have your all-star library immortalized…because the actual books are…mortal…? I guess people would rather have a drawing of their favorite books all together than just have the actual books together on a prominent shelf. Well, anyway, I think it’s a great website even if it doesn’t make sense.

But, alas, I don’t have $255 laying around to order my ideal bookshelf (immortal or mortal), so I just took some pictures of the actual books which are scattered throughout actual bookshelves in our house (some are missing, as I tend to give my books away). Ideal is a funny word, and these are not the best books I’ve ever read, nor are they the books I think everyone should read. This is more like the reference section for a study on my soul.

(I don’t mention the Bible in this list. I just think it’s in a different category for me.)

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

This was my favorite book for a long time. It introduced me to the concept of personalities and how they affected ones social, romantic and familial life. As I’ve said before, I always wanted to be a Jo. But I was such a Meg.

The Abriged version. G
Gave away the unabridged and kept the one with the great pictures.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

This was the first seriously meaty book I ever read. It was in Mrs. Stephen’s 8th grade English class. We read it slowly, and discussed it thoroughly, which is the best way to read twisty-plotted 19th century French literature. Because we read slowly, I really really savored it, in a way that I don’t know if I have done since.

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

This was another 8th grade read. It’s still my go-to resource my tri-yearly crisis of faith.

The big questions section
The big questions section

Ramona the Pest, Beverly Cleary

My 1st grade gifted-and-talented teacher read the entire Ramona series out loud to us, one chapter per class. Ramona Quimby was my original comedic hero.

Me, Katherine Hepburn

I love golden era movie star biographies. And Katherine Hepburn was more than just a starlet. I had no idea when I picked up her autobiography that she would become one of my favorite characters in history…not just entertainment.

My Golden Era Hollywood biography section
My Golden Era Hollywood biography section, with other notable biographies scattered throughout.

Til We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis

I read this at the most perfect moment. I was in a critical time of wrestling with bitterness and despair, and in it I saw both the peril of my soul and the antidote.

The Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood

Atwood inspires me. Social commentary, great story, and sci-fi, a genre I never thought I liked until I read The Blind Assassin. But in Handmaid she’s chillingly good.

One of the most easily identified pieces of cover art .
One of the most easily identified pieces of cover art .

Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver

This was a pick for Read the Change, and it’s not Kingsolver’s best work, but any stretch of the imagination. It gets preachy, and it’s not as tight as others. But it changed my mind about a lot of things. It taught me things that matter.

Neither Here, Nor There: Travels in Europe, Bill Bryson

Hilarious. Bryson and David Sedaris make me want to learn to write funny. Humor is so hard! Comedians and humorists are some of the most intelligent people in the world, I think. Plus, they get to tell the truth that no one else can. As Oscar Wilde said, “If you want to tell people the truth, make the laugh otherwise they’ll kill you.”

Manchild in the Promised Land, Claude Brown

Eye-opening in so many ways for this white girl.

My reference section.
My reference section.

The Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test, Tom Wolfe

Literary journalism rocked my world. Wolfe is funny, but not laugh-out-loud like Bryson. Not knee-slapping funny. He’s more of a shake-your-head-and-chuckle funny. Because he just gets certain things. He observes the painful parts far too keenly to do anything but wince and giggle.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi

I haven’t read this since 2nd grade, so it may be terrible. But I loved it then, and I love what it did for me. I still have the mental images and I still remember the feeling of being swept up in a story, which is important at that age. That’s why I think Harry Potter might have single-handedly saved literacy for a generation (no one take me to task on that, it’s hyperbole).

The Last Picture Show, Larry McMurtry

This was my favorite book after college, and I didn’t give much thought as to why…until I gave it to Lewis to read and he said, “This whole book is about perverse sexual situations.” Aha. Somebody was into being “edgy.” But still, really, it’s a great book.

Thankfully Lewis didn't read my "favorite book" until after he'd proposed.
Thankfully Lewis didn’t read my “favorite book” until after he’d proposed.

Matilda, Roald Dahl

Who didn’t want to be Matilda? And Roald Dahl is one of my heroes. What a talent, really. His imagination is both dark and whimsical, in proportions I aspire to attain.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbs, Bill Watterson

Gunnar, my brother, eventually shared this love with me. We can still quote the comics back and forth. The sense of humor in them is multi-layered and entertaining on most levels.

The Eames shelf of honor.
The Eames shelf of honor.

The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor

I wish I had a penny for every time I wanted to shout, “The lame shall enter first!”